Africa House - the jewel of 1938 Empire Exhibition still standing - saved on abandoned industrial site

It was voted the public’s most loved building of the extraordinary Empire Exhibition of 1938, it’s traditional lines at odds with the spectacular of modernism that brought a version of the world to Bellahouston Park.

Such was the popularity of the South Africa Pavilion – packed with ostrich feathers and displays of diamond, gold and silver mining, wine making and indigenous village life – there was a campaign to stop it being demolished once the exhibition, which attracted 12 million visitors, came to an end.

Aberdeen wanted to take it north, with Glasgow also hoping to claim it for good.

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Perhaps bizarrely, it ended up at the ICI explosives factory at Ardeer in North Ayrshire where it served as a canteen for workers.

The South African Pavilion is pictured right at the 1938 Empire Exhibition . It was voted the most popular building of the event, which attracted 12 million people. (Image: James Valentine & Co/University of St Andrews Library)

Today it can still be found on the largely abandoned site, derelict, vandalised and in a poor state after its roof caved in last summer.

But more than 80 years on from the exhibition, it would appear the pavilion, later renamed Africa House, has been saved once again, with Historic Environment Scotland (HES) now rejecting an application by a housing developer to have its B-listed status removed.

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A HES spokesperson said: “Following a request to consider delisting Africa House, we carried out a review of the listing and have concluded that the building continues to meet the criteria of special architectural or historic interest and should remain listed.

Developers wanted to demolish the B-listed building - later named Africa House - which was moved to an explosives plant in Ardeer, North Ayrshire, after the exhibition - and has been left untouched for 25 years. PIC: CC.

"We are also updating the listed building record to include additional information about the history of the building. We will continue to work with the local authority, owner and other relevant parties as they consider options for the building following the designation review.”

The former South Africa Pavilion, which was built with distinctive Dutch Baroque gables, is one of the few remaining buildings from the exhibition. It took its place in the 'Dominions and Colonies' section, together with Canada and Australia.

According to HES records, it was built by James Miller (1860-1947), a well-respected Glasgow architect whose other projects included the Union Bank building in St Vincent Street, an extension to Glasgow Central station and Wemyss Bay railway station.

The building, which has not been used for 25 years, was bought over by Clowes Developments Scotland Ltd, which was granted planning permission in 2015 to build 70 houses on the ICI site.

Last year the company applied to North Ayrshire Council for permission to demolish Africa House, suggesting it was Miller’s son George, a lesser-known architect, who actually designed it.

A local campaign to save it led to the application being withdrawn, with developers then asking HES to reconsider its listed building status.

Architectural historian Neil Baxter said Africa House was always meant to be a temporary structure.

Mr Baxter said: "The building is of no great architectural distinction, but it is a rare survivor of the exhibition, which was hugely important.

“It isn’t a great building, nor something of real architectural quality. It’s essentially ersatz Cape Dutch, totally at odds with the prevailing modernism of the rest of the Empire Exhibition.

"If the building is standing in the way of what would be a positive development for the community, then there would be an argument for careful recording of the building and demolition.”

Clowes Developments was approached for comment.

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